In Turkey I fell down a toilet and was extricated by the local undertaker who doubled as a barber. It happened in a picturesque village with an unpronounceable name somewhere near Bodrum on Turkey’s south coast. We were exploring an ancient archaeological site. While balancing myself above the ubiquitous hole – here, holes rule – my foot slipped in. It is no joy to have a left foot incarcerated in a Turkish bodily-waste evacuation unit.
Mr Memmil Zummaz, local undertaker-cum-barber, dug out my foot with a crowbar. The public convenience was damaged beyond use. My husband, who participated in the negotiations, was all for leaving me there.
However, after an hour of bargaining, we decided on $50 and every year I send Mr Memmil Zummaz a card wishing him happiness and prosperity.
If you are queasy, stay home because in the course of your vacation, you will find every kind of toilet arrangement. In many Middle East, Far East, Asian and African countries, a squat-and-aim hole in the ground suffices.
This makes good sense in a germ-free way. Your derriere will not make contact where others have been.In many parts of China, especially in rural areas, there are flowing narrow channels with cubicles straddling them. To use such a convenience, you place your feet on either side of the channel. Then you crouch and perform. It is better not to gaze into the running water as the water always runs from the male to the female toilets. This is not a sight you will treasure forever.
In Japan, your buttocks will rejoice. The Japanese have turned their lavatories into an art form. The most luxurious I tried had flashing controls and buttons you had to push. The first warmed the seat. The second played a soothing but sufficiently loud sound to block out any other noises that might, during the course of action, be emitted. The third button sprayed a soft jet of water upon your parts and the fourth and final control was the drier.
My derriere emerged from this experience feeling as though it had attended a full session in a spa. Special slippers were provided for use while seated upon the throne. Now, that was a wholesome experience.
Lavatories tell you much about a country you are visiting. While travelling though the mountainous parts of the Ozarks in the USA we approached a tiny village. It was not even a one-horse town. The horse had died. There was a petrol pump, a diner and a small general dealer’s store.
We stopped for a hamburger and I ventured into the bathroom. There were two facing cubicles. The swing doors on each started above thigh level and ended just above the waist. Perhaps the original intention was to create a little privacy but somebody had seriously miscalculated and, as you sat on the loo your private parts were in full view – as were those of the occupant of the opposite cubicle. Only your navel area was fully screened. I only realized this when a lass the size of a hippo seated herself and all I could see were her performing parts.
We smiled and said hello, as you do in this situation.
“So where are you from?” she asked, on hearing a strange accent.
“South Africa,” I replied.
“Holey Moley!” she exclaimed. Then she grunted and pushed, upon which an extraordinary wind concerto issued forth. I left pronto, not wishing to be asphyxiated.
Some years ago I found myself in dire need outside South Africa House in Trafalgar Square, London. The officials at the door would not let me enter.
“But I am a South African in distress,” I wailed, crossing my legs.
“No, you can’t use our toilet,” said one. “You may have a bomb in your pants.”
Unquestionably, the finest toilet experiences are those in the African bush where you have a loo with a view. The pleasure of watching an elephant or a warthog strolling past turns a necessarily regular function into a delight.
Carol Lazar is Africa’s best-known travel writer.